We're All Zombies, And the Assholes Are Winning May 01 2014, 7 Comments
I've been a little jaded lately--confused and distressed. I haven't been able to put a finger on the pulse of it. It's everywhere and nowhere. It doesn't feel like pressure or anxiety, or doom, or fear--just sadness really. But I'll hold off on that for a minute.
There are things I love with a passion. I'm no different than most of you and the older I get, the more I realize how similar I am to most of my peers. So my list is probably a lot like yours.
In order: I love my family to pieces. My wife and my children are my reason and my life. There is no stronger statement. Next, I love the fire service and my department. The feeling is not the same as the ones I have for my family, it's more like the feeling of possessing a valuable but hidden gift. Maybe like finding ten dollars in the gutter and putting it in your pocket--that feeling like you've got something lucky and special that chance and good fortune brought you. The only difference is the ten spot is always there. Every morning when you put your work pants on, and shove your hands in your pockets, there it is again, the feeling of it--the luck of it. It never goes away for me. I'm lucky to love my work, my job and my craft.
I love other things as well, but this is the core of it. Everything else depends on these two things for me.
So why do I feel the way I do today? Why do others tell me they feel the same in different ways? There is something, maybe an up-welling you could call it. Maybe a shift. There is definitely a change. Everyone feels it and no one can quite put their finger on it. I know this because I see good people all around me grasping desperately for it, trying their best to keep tradition, goodness, and the brotherhood alive. You can find them and their followers on outposts at the busiest and best firehouses and all throughout the internet, but it doesn't seem as if we're winning, what it feels more like is comfort knowing you're not alone, like maybe you've found some other souls that realize the ship is adrift.
This is the difference.
One of the many things that Dads can do for their sons is point out who the assholes are. I know my Dad did. We'd get cut-off by a driver with road rage and my Dad would go, "Look at that asshole." Or we'd be at a job site and he'd point to the lazy guy sitting by the cooler and he'd say to me, "See that asshole, sitting down while everyone else is working." Or I'd hear the stories about shitty officers at the firehouse, self-serving 'assholes' who didn't care about the guys or the job, and it was all very clear. You could see the jerk, you could compare him to the others and you had a viable example of somehow or some way that you shouldn't be. And as best you could, you learned to avoid these types and not become one yourself.
Now, with the internet, texts, e-mails, tweets, Facebook posts, audio and video recordings and every other immediate thing out there, the assholes are lining up, wreaking havoc, hiding behind their curtain and are never accountable to the face or name of the person they're slamming. They line up as virtual vampire armies to weigh their 'very important' opinions and suck the life out of someone. They get all the feeling of power without ever risking looking someone in the eye and witnessing the pain they cause. No, they get to sit with their crooked spines and downcast eyes and type the thoughts that mostly would be better locked up.
I was lucky enough to be hired before computers took over the fire service. I knew who the assholes were. It didn't mean I didn't respect them, hell, sometimes I respected them more because sometimes you have to respect the assholes that tell it 'like it is,' and are not afraid to hurt your feelings. Because the next time you work with them you wanted to be able to look them in the eye and say, 'yeah, I got it.'
The fire service was clear and it was easy. I loved the directness--the black and white of it. Do this. Don't do that. Do it this way. See that guy, he's a real POS, but he is the guy you want next to you on the fire ground. And the Chief, well he was the boss and he fixed things with just a few words and he stayed out of the guys way and when he asked for something, you jumped on it.
After e-mail and the introduction of electronic communication the fire service changed. I've learned and still learn alot to this day about it, but I've settled on some personal truths.
- Firefighters (at least the ones you respect) are the types of people who like to be told, face to face what you want--what you like and what you don't like. They want to be treated like adults and spoken to face to face, even if the news is tough. I'm not sure how they do it in the private sector, but I believe we are the last breed of an older generation that values actions and handshakes, slaps on the back and an atta' boy every now and again.
- Firefighters are generally terrible writers, that's why they carry axes and not pens. With that truth established it is safe to say that most firefighters should save writing e-mails and texts for those dire circumstances when they are unavoidable. I have found the e-mail to any one person to be almost completely avoidable and after learning a few hard lessons I now only write e-mails to groups to deliver a message.
- When a firefighter receives an e-mail directed at him and only him, he automatically gets defensive. We learn early in the fire service that anything written can be used against you later. So, a seemingly innocent e-mail is often interpreted quite differently.
- Leadership or management by electronic communication is a fallacy, it is often a joke and it is the laziest way to lead. Furthermore, it is almost always a recipe for failure.
It is easy to get sucked into the computer. It is easy to get drawn into the black and white of numbers and so-called 'accountability tracking'. It's easy to click the mouse and pass judgement, make assumptions and learn 'everything you need to know' instantly, but you're missing so much.
The reasons for the numbers and the numbers themselves all come from people that are still out there sweating and trying their best to make it work. They're out there struggling, making the best of the situation. Get out there with them, talk to them, ride with them, empathize with them, then be tough, be a jerk, be nice, be funny. Just don't be the asshole behind the curtain with the crooked spine and the downcast eyes.
Those guys have yet to fix anything.
Sipperley on May 13 2014 at 10:52PM
I have to say that I grew up with the best dad ever, a Miami Beach fire chief, who loved his fire house as much as his family home. His time was before the calendar and back when they used the boot to collect money on the corner for Muscular Dystrophy. Now as an adult I look back on all of those fireman picnics with great fondness and a slice of life feeling that I strive to pass onto my own children. I knew that they broke the mold when they made my dad, the most honest, tell it like it is…like it or not, compassionate person you could ever encounter. The fireman you are speaking of is the one who does what he is supposed to when no one is looking, the one who lost children find to help them find their parents, the one who mothers hold onto with the hopes that they can save their children, the one whom guys want to be friends with because he is the best SOB around, and the one who you know would be the last one out even if it would cost him his life. You are the change and the shift that you wish to see just by starting this blog and I can’t think of a better or more honorable thing to give my dad for Father’s Day than a Hook and Iron piece. My dad did carry and ax but he was smart and always had a pen in his pocket…Nice work can’t wait to share this blog with him…keep writing GMay and keep the baseball bats away from the mailboxes:)
Leatherhead 109 on May 05 2014 at 02:28PM
Hey Brother! This was outstanding! I loved every word. Lets keep walking side by side, every step!—Ben
John Halgren on May 05 2014 at 01:11PM
Your career belongs to you and only you. How you execute the details are also up to you. Bad bosses, good bosses, they will come and go. Your attitude, work ethic, and personal standards will remain what you made of them.
Forget the external things.
You could list all of the things that have arrived in the fire service and have been blamed to a certain degree for changes we don’t like. Women, SCBA, EMS… (yes, we have complained about all of these things) People have complained about all manner of things… Tomorrow will bring something else. Promise.
Bring your genuine self to shift, and things will be just fine.
Brendan on May 02 2014 at 03:32PM
Hold strong brother!! I’ve always felt like this and realized we can only control our houses! Make your house what you want it to be and f%#^ the rest! They will never meet your standards
Marc on May 01 2014 at 11:33PM
Nice one, I feel like I want fix something or someone right now, thanks
Butch Chapman unit#1709,sta.17,Jacksonville ohio on May 01 2014 at 11:07PM
Couldn’t agree more!!! After 31 yrs in the fire service, I’ve seen so many changes but thankfully our firehouse is still the same. I heard once " we call it a firehouse because we’re a family, a fire station is a job", can’t wait for your next blog.
Gio on May 01 2014 at 10:35PM
Wow! What a great perspective! Did not really think about it this way, but you are right! While I am a firefighter with about 10 years experience in 2 different fire departments, I still feel like an old soul trapped in the wrong generation. I yearn for some of the tough love, straight shooting, thick skin, I will die for you type of department too. Hope we can garner support from others that feel the same….